Thanks Anyway

In 1776, Viennese schoolmaster Antonio Felkel factored every number up to 408,000. Few people bought the book, though, so the treasury recalled it and used the paper to make ammunition cartridges.

University of Prague professor J.P. Kulik spent 20 years extending the work to 100,000,000. He published it in six volumes in 1867.

Volume 2 has been lost.

White Heat

Ralph R. Maerz patented this snowball maker in 1989, to produce balls with an “aesthetically pleasing and aerodynamically sound round shape.”

It would have been a doomsday weapon in Edinburgh in 1838, when a snowball fight escalated into a full-scale riot:

On the 10th January some snowballing took place in front of the College, in which the students took part. The warfare between the students and the townspeople was renewed on the 11th, and became more serious. Several shop windows were broken, the shops were closed, and the street traffic suspended. The students, believing that the constables took the side of the mob against them, appeared on the 12th armed with sticks, to defend themselves against the constables’ batons. Then a regular riot took place, sticks and batons being freely used, and matters became so serious that the magistrates found it necessary to send to the Castle for a detachment of soldiers of the 79th Highlanders, which arrived and drew up across the College quadrangle, and peace was restored. [University Snowdrop, 1838]

This may be history’s only instance of military intervention in a snowball fight. Five students were tried; all were acquitted.

Music Appreciation

“Debussy’s music is the dreariest kind of rubbish. Does anybody for a moment doubt that Debussy would write such chaotic, meaningless, cacophonous, ungrammatical stuff, if he could invent a melody?” — New York Post, 1907

“It is probable that much, if not most, of Stravinsky’s music will enjoy brief existence.” — New York Sun, Jan. 16, 1937

“Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, like the first pancake, is a flop.” — Nicolai Soloviev, Novoye Vremya, St. Petersburg, Nov. 13, 1875

Rigoletto is the weakest work of Verdi. It lacks melody.” — Gazette Musicale de Paris, May 22, 1853

“Sure-fire rubbish.” — New York Herald Tribune on Porgy and Bess, Oct. 11, 1935

Road Work

P.T. Barnum conceived a novel way to advertise his American Museum: He paid a man to place a brick at each of five New York intersections and to spend the day marching industriously from one to the next, exchanging bricks at each stop.

“What is the object of this?” inquired the man.

“No matter,” said Barnum. “All you need to know is that it brings you fifteen cents wages per hour. It is a bit of my fun, and to assist me properly you must seem to be as deaf as a post; wear a serious countenance; answer no questions; pay no attention to anyone; but attend faithfully to the work, and at the end of every hour, by St. Paul’s clock, show this ticket at the Museum door; enter, walking solemnly through every hall in the building; pass out, and resume your work.”

Within an hour the sidewalks were packed, and many spectators bought tickets so they could follow the mysterious man inside. “This was continued for several days — the curious people who followed the man into the Museum considerably more than paying his wages — till, finally, the policeman, to whom I had imparted my object, complained that the obstruction of the sidewalk by crowds had become so serious that I must call in my ‘brick man.'”

“This trivial incident excited considerable talk and amusement; it advertised me; and it materially advanced my purpose of making a lively corner near the Museum.”

Damned If You Don’t

Marijuana is illegal in North Carolina, but the state still profits from its sale. Under state law, anyone who purchases illegal drugs must buy stamps within 48 hours and affix them to the controlled substance. If you’re caught without stamps, you’re still liable for the tax.

No one expects people actually to do this — since 1990, only a few dozen people have bought the stamps, and many of those are thought to be stamp collectors. But the state has collected more than $68 million for failure to display them.


Henry Ford told a visitor to the Ford Motor Company that there were exactly 4,719 parts in a finished car.

Impressed, the visitor asked the supervising engineer if this were true.

“I’m sure I don’t know,” said the engineer. “I can’t think of a more useless piece of information.”

Pen Mystique

Note from poet Thomas Bailey Aldrich to zoologist Edward S. Morse:

My dear Morse:

It was very pleasant to receive a letter from you the other day. Perhaps I should have found it pleasanter if I had been able to decipher it. I don’t think I mastered anything beyond the date, which I knew, and the signature, at which I guessed.

There is a singular and perpetual charm in a letter of yours — it never grows old, and it never loses its novelty. One can say every morning, as one looks at it, ‘Here’s a letter of Morse’s I haven’t read yet. I think I shall take another shy at it to-day, and maybe I shall be able in the course of a few years to make out what he means by those t’s that look like w’s and those i’s that haven’t any eyebrows.’

Other letters are read and thrown away and forgotten, but yours are kept forever–unread. One of them will last a reasonable man a lifetime.

Admiringly yours,

T.B. Aldrich

The Sedgwick Pie
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Most graves in Massachusetts’ Stockbridge Cemetery are oriented with the feet facing east, so that on Resurrection Day the dead will rise facing Jerusalem.

Not so the Sedgwick family — patriarch Theodore Sedgwick ordered that his family’s graves form a circle with their feet toward the center. This way, on Judgment Day, Sedgwicks will see only other Sedgwicks.

It’s been called “the laughingstock of the entire Eastern seaboard.”

Music Appreciation

Excerpts from concert reviews in London’s Harmonicon:

June 1823:

Opinions are much divided concerning the merits of the Pastoral symphony of Beethoven, though very few venture to deny that it is much too long.

July 1825:

[Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony] is a composition in which the author has indulged a great deal of disagreeable eccentricity. Often as we now have heard it performed, we cannot yet discover any design in it, neither can we trace any connexion in its parts. Altogether it seems to have been intended as a kind of enigma — we had almost said a hoax.

June 1827:

[Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony] depends wholly on its last movement for what applause it obtains; the rest is eccentric without being amusing, and laborious without effect.

April 1825:

We now find [the length of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony] to be precisely one hour and five minutes; a fearful period indeed, which puts the muscles and lungs of the band, and the patience of the audience to a severe trial.

“But how did you get to understand Beethoven?” wrote John Ruskin to John Brown in 1881. “He always sounds to me like the upsetting of bags of nails, with here and there an also dropped hammer.”